Men’s Health May 2013: Build Muscle, Write Better Headlines

What do you get when you combine a psychopathic knight from HBO’s Game of Thrones and a list of some (mostly) awesome headlines?

Why, the Men’s Health May 2013 cover of course!

You might have seen my Cosmo headline case studies for the past two months.  April is here and March is here.

Well, I decided to change up the subject of May’s case study to give you a flavor of how a different magazine uses headlines to catch readers’ eyes at the newsstand.

Despite targeting a completely different demographicMen’s Health relies on the same headline principles as the people over at Cosmo to make readers intrigued enough to read their articles.

I hope you’re noticing a trend here… the larger (and more successful) the magazine’s circulation, the more conservative they tend to be when it comes to following the “classic headline” template.

Demographics (and the subject matter of the particular magazine) are SECONDARY to universal psychological principles.

Here’s what the U.S. cover looks like for next month:


Nothing crazy here.

Just simple, effective headlines.

Before you add these to your swipe file, (you do have a swipe file don’t you?!) I thought it would be helpful to do a quick rundown of the headlines to discuss why I think they are so effective.

Ready?  Here goes!

Shred Your Abs in 4 Weeks!

Nothing fancy about this headline, but still effective nonetheless.  It promises a valuable benefit that interests practically every potential Men’s Health reader (defined abs) in a manageable timeframe (4 weeks).

I also like the use of the word “shred,”  “Shred” is descriptive, and it implies the potential of a dramatic change in a short time period.  This appeals for guys who want the most effective method to get what they want as fast as possible.

Build UFC Muscles 3 Killer Moves

This one’s another benefit-based headline.  It capitalizes on the popularity of mixed martial arts (UFC is a series of tournaments that are available on pay per view).  Those guys are in incredible shape; you’d be hard-pressed to find a Men’s Health reader who wouldn’t want to look like a prizefighter.

Another good thing about this one is how it breaks the “method” down into 3 simple steps.  A lot of workout programs can be overwhelming, so the simplicity of only having 3 moves to follow strengthens this headline’s appeal.

The Most Dangerous Advice in the Gym

I really like this headline.  It uses a combination of a curiosity-based appeal (the reader wonders which specific advice is the most dangerous… and if they’ve heard it already) along with an implied benefit appeal.  The implied benefit being that, once the reader discovers what the dangerous advice is, he’ll be able to ignore it and stay safe.

It’s been my experience that gym rats dole out “advice” like Santa Claus hands out presents.  Some of it is a lot better than others, so it would be helpful to distinguish what will make me stronger from what will make me… hurt.

Best.  Chicken.  Ever.

This one is strange.  I think it’s the weakest one of bunch.

There is an implied benefit of tasty chicken recipes.  A lot of Men’s Health readers are health-conscious, so they tend to eat a lot of chicken, turkey, tuna, etc.  And learning how to spruce those up can make it a lot easier to stick to a diet.

But the headline doesn’t compel me to do much.  It’s a swing and a miss for me.

The Surprising Health Threat at Home

I like these “warning” type headlines (as long as they aren’t overdone).  This one has a lethal mixture of curiosity (what is the health threat?!) and implied benefit (being able to avoid the threat after discovering what it is).

Men’s Health readers don’t just care about their own health; they care about their family’s health too.  So the prospect of ridding their homes of dangerous things carries a strong appeal.

Is Your Wife Happily Married?

Boom.  This one might just be my favorite headline of the Men’s Health May 2013 issue.  It really lays the curiosity appeal on thick.

There are just so many things that can go wrong in relationships.  The average Men’s Health reader has probably experienced (or knows someone who’s experienced) a surprising, painful breakup.

Picking up on the warning sides – and reversing course before it’s too late – make this one pretty much irresistible.

Page 142 Will Make You Rich!  Page 40 Will Turn Her On!  Page 122 Will Put You to Sleep!

I hope you don’t mind I combined these three.

They’re all benefit-based headlines promising different “types” of benefits.  But the way they’re grouped together and how the page numbers are listed make them work in conjunction.  Each headline works like a bulletpoint why the reader should be interested.

These aren’t the strongest headlines in and of themselves.  But they add an extra spark of motivation to open up the magazine if the other headlines left you on the fence.

The Easiest Way to Lose 10 Pounds

This one is solid.  It’s a simple, benefit-based headline (again!)  But it has a strong appeal because a lot of guys who read Men’s Health are close to being in great shape.

They’re better off than the average guy in terms of physical fitness.  They just need to find that “edge” – that one technique to drop those last few pounds – to really look great when beach season comes around.

That’s why this headline works.  It uses a classic headline principle and focused appeal for the Men’s Health demographic.

Sex Confessions: What She (Really) Wishes You Knew

A good attention-grabber at the top of the spread.  This headline uses a one-two punch of curiosity (what does she wish I knew?!) and an implied benefit (being able to please a woman in the bedroom with your newfound knowledge).

This is a very Cosmo-esque headline if you substitute “he” for “she.”  But it’s effective because having a strong relationship is important to guys too.

Having good “Men’s health” takes more than just physical health.  There’s also mental and emotional health in the mix.  This headline targets guys who place more importance on those aspects.

Take these headlines.  Copy them down and add them to your swipe file (except for that weird chicken one).

Constant exposure and engaging with proven headlines will leave an impression on your ads.  Eventually, writing solid headlines just becomes a part of you.  It doesn’t require conscious thought; you just know what sounds right and what sounds… off.

And that’s exactly what you want.

P.S.  Which of the Men’s Health May 2013 headlines was your favorite?  Least favorite?  Leave me a comment and let me know!